Livermore, CA —"Flying is for the birds" you might say—especially if your experiences lately have consisted of being marched cattle-like down a long chute, only to sit galley-slave style inside an aluminum tube, enduring one flight delay after another. Well, perhaps then, you should try flying like a bird—I have.
The Mountain Goat is fun to fly, safe and aptly named for getting into and out of tight places with heavy loads.
After interviewing Kinetic Aviation President Bill Montagne about designing his Mountain Goat bush plane (see p. 127), he asked if I was up for a ride. I certainly was, and what followed was one of the most pleasant and exciting hours I've ever had in the air.
Bush planes need to get in and out of tight spaces in the wild, so takeoff from the field here was short and to the point—Montagne advanced the throttle (not to full power, by the way), brought the tail up, and after a roll of less than the width of an average house's yard, we were airborne and climbing in what seems like an elevator rather than what you're used to in an airplane. While the climb angle was steep, the attitude of the Mountain Goat was fairly flat—thanks to the wing design and flap arrangement that also allows the roll-controlling ailerons to droop and act as lift-augmenting flaps as well.
While we could cruise out to a nearby watershed reservation at over 150 mph, Montagne slowed the Goat down and we did some pleasant, floating-like turns at around 35 mph—try that in your six-across-seating 737! Once over the preserve, we shot uphill landing approaches on some slopes, much like a bush pilot would do to land in remote areas. While we didn't touch down (Montagne felt the wind conditions weren't right), before climbing away we were low and slow enough that the speed sensation seemed more akin to a car well below the freeway limit. This highlights a safety feature of the Mountain Goat—with low speed capabilities, coupled with the beefy structure, any mishap at such low speed is that much more survivable.
Montagne then noticed we had passed over several elk, at most a couple hundred feet below. He then pulled a sharp bank to turn and go back for a better look. We observed the animals, while turning about them with hardly a glance up, then exited the hollow at times below the tree heights. After more turning about the hills and valleys trying to sight the wild pigs known to be in the area, it dawned on me that another use for the Mountain Goat would be for "air tourism" flying—having minimal impact and obtrusiveness in sensitive habitat or inaccessible areas.
Returning to the airport, we touched down around 30 mph. Our landing roll was probably less than the length of a small airliner and more like an instant taxi run back to the hanger.
After this turn at flying low, slow, safe, and fairly quiet, I can almost appreciate the exhilaration the first aviators must have felt in the early days of flying. Now, how can I get that Mach 2 ride in an F-14?